A friend once reiterated to me a rather clever phrase that seems to hold truth on the ground. The phrase was simply ‘Sweden is big in metal but metal is not big in Sweden’. Like many European nations, the general population of this charming country of just under ten million really doesn’t seem to care more about metal than the rest of the old continent. Yet somehow metal heads all over the world look at Sweden with respect and admiration for the countless bands it has produced and their impact on the genre as a whole. Some of the bands from and around the capital city of Stockholm have come to share some characteristics in terms of performance, theme and overall delivery and one of them is the relative newcomers Usurpress.
The band first came to see the ever-present light in July of 2010 with a debut demo. After ploughing their way through splits, EPs and a couple of full-length releases, the Uppsala-based quartet is back this year with its third album The Regal Tribe. All band members have had their share of previous bands before coming together on this project which technically disqualifies them as a band of newcomers. A quick glance at the line-up may not ring any bells but after a closer look, one stumbles across the bassist Daniel Ekeroth, the author of the book ‘Swedish Death Metal’. The man has been active on the scene since the mid-90s and has been one of many witnesses on the cultural and musical transformations that took place around this movement for more than twenty years.
So with the right surroundings, years of experience behind them and connections deep inside the scene, what is one to expect from a Usurpress record? Well, exactly everything you’d expect from a Swedish death metal band. The album’s ten tracks bleed into each other to form one punishing thirty eight minute piece of classic death metal that builds up a lot of tension and never predictably releases it, only to compound the sense of anxiety when it is finally released. “Beneath the Starless Tribe” kicks the album off with a minute of foreboding darkness before hell breaks loose. It gives the vibe from the album cover of walking through a quiet musty forest then suddenly stumbling across these trees with all the bare skeletons hanging from them.
Dizzying tempos shifts and the typical buzzsaw guitar sound are predictably common features throughout the album and they come to dominate the likes of “The One They Call the Usurpress” and “The Mortal Tribes”. The band’s more dynamic side is found on “Throwing the Gift Away” which begins with a deep thudding bass that ushers in a rather doomy segment then mad riffs ensue only to give way to a somber lead guitar finish. The delicate and melancholic “On a Bed of Straw” portrays another side of the band which can be discomfortingly positive, but any shred of hope or positivity is immediately overtaken by the unearthly shriek and downpour of riffs on “The Sin That is Mine”. All in all, this is a very tight album from experienced musicians who share a love for a certain sound and the relevance it has for their culture and identity. The Regal Tribe is by no means a reinvention of Swedish death metal but it is an adeptly executed record that helps in keeping a much beloved sound alive for many years to come.